Authors: Sean Campbell,Daniel Campbell
Tags: #London, #British, #heist, #vigilante justice, #serial killer, #organized crime, #murder
None of the locals admitted to seeing Mayberry’s abduction. According to them, Barker Road was a quiet residential street where nothing interesting ever happened – until now.
As Morton walked away from another front door empty-handed, Ayala called him over to the car. The passenger-side door was open, and Ayala was riding shotgun with a laptop open in front of him and a long lead trailing from the side to connect up to the dashboard computer.
‘Boss, I think I’ve got something. The lady over there’ – Ayala pointed towards a house about fifty feet past the abduction point – ‘said she thought she saw a white blur go past. If you were going to abduct someone, what kind of vehicle would you use?’
‘Something with tinted windows, or no windows at all.’ Morton leant against the passenger-side door.
‘Exactly. I’d use a van of some kind. No windows to see through, and a hostage could be dragged inside in a split second, minimising the chances of witnesses. It fits with the tyre treads. The rubber marks suggest a wheel span of four feet and two inches, and some fairly chunky tyres.’
‘Does that give us a brand?’ Morton crossed his fingers that Ayala wasn’t about to say something generic like ‘Ford’.
‘Nope, but I also ran a check on the Taken Without Consent database–’
‘And?’ Morton demanded. There had to be something on the stolen vehicle database. Surely the abductors wouldn’t dare to use their own car.
‘Sorry, boss. Nothing there within a twenty-mile radius, not within the last week.’
‘Which means it’s either not a stolen van, which is unlikely; it wasn’t stolen nearby; or it’s not been reported stolen yet,’ Morton said.
‘But I did get a hit on the Automated Number Plate Recognition database. A camera on the A320 caught a white van going by about ten minutes after Mayberry was taken.’
‘Where is it now?’ Morton ran around to the driver’s side of the car and jumped in.
‘It’s just come off the A318, going into Byfleet. The registered keeper lives less than half a mile from there.’
Morton revved up the engine so quickly that it would have been no surprise to have looked back and seen a second set of tyre marks on the road. Seconds later Morton spared one final glance in the wing mirror before turning onto the A317. As Morton sped away, the residents were still standing there in the road wondering what they had just witnessed.
orton made it to Byfleet in just under fifteen minutes. They’d struggled with rush hour traffic at every turn before finally making it across the water.
‘Odd, isn’t it?’ Ayala had asked as they crossed. ‘Who’d have thought you could have an inland island right in the middle of the country?’
Morton had ignored him and headed for Mowbray Lane, where the van’s registered keeper lived.
They spotted the van in seconds. It was parked right in front of the house, taking up half of the narrow road.
‘Does this feel right to you? It seems awfully quiet around here,’ Ayala said once they had parked up. They stood in front of the house and looked at the home of the van owner. The front curtains were open, and Morton could see a family of four sitting around a large dining table with a shoulder of pork resting atop a serving dish in the centre of the table.
‘No, it doesn’t. Let’s check the van,’ Morton said, and then he edged towards the Ford Transit and knocked on the back door. ‘Mayberry! If you’re in there, give us a sign.’
‘Right. If he’s in there, he’s out cold. We’ve got to go in. It looks like there’s a side gate. Cover that in case he runs, and I’ll go for the front door.’
‘Got it, boss,’ Ayala said.
He crouched low, careful to keep below the dining room window, then shuffled towards the gate. Once Ayala was in place, Morton walked straight down the driveway and knocked on the door smartly.
Seconds passed, and Morton felt his pulse quicken. The last time he’d been in pursuit of a suspect he’d had to break the door down, and it wasn’t an experience he was keen on repeating any time soon.
Then the door opened, and a man wearing jeans and a blue cotton shirt appeared. He looked to be about fifty, with salt and pepper hair, a weatherworn face, and smile lines around his eyes.
The man nodded. ‘I’m Boyd Petersen. Look, it’s not really a good time. The better half has just served dinner, and I don’t like to buy things at the door, so thanks but no thanks.’
‘I’m not selling anything. I’m–’
‘They all say that. Good night.’
Morton shoved his foot inside the door just as it was slammed shut. He swore loudly as pain shot through his foot, and Petersen cracked a grin that showed off perfectly even, pearly-white teeth.
‘I’m a police officer,’ Morton finished through gritted teeth.
Boyd Petersen’s grin disappeared. ‘I’m so sorry, officer. What can I do for you?’
‘Your van was spotted leaving a crime scene earlier this evening,’ Morton said. ‘Could you open it for us, please?’
Petersen looked thunderstruck. ‘You’ve got the wrong van. I was working on a wet room installation until an hour ago, and that van has been on my client’s driveway all day.’
Morton exhaled deeply, and then reached for his belt as if going for his handcuffs. ‘Are you refusing to open the van, sir?’
‘No, no, not at all. Hang on.’ Petersen turned away and called out to his wife. ‘Honey! Can you put my plate in the oven, please?’
A shrewish voice echoed back from the kitchen immediately. ‘Why? Where are you going this time of night? Hours I spent slaving over that dinner for you.’ Her voice grew louder and louder, and then she appeared in the hallway.
Morton gave her a polite nod. ‘Mrs Petersen, I’m afraid I need to borrow your husband for a few minutes. Police enquiries.’
Mrs Petersen shot her husband a dirty glance and then shrugged.
‘Gimme a second. I’ll grab my shoes.’
Petersen disappeared, his bare feet making virtually no sound on the plush carpet. Then he reappeared clad in thick boots, trudged past Morton and pressed a button on his key fob. Out of the corner of his eye, Morton saw Ayala coming towards them.
Petersen grasped the handle and heaved the sliding door aside to reveal the back of the van.
‘What are you looking for?’ Petersen asked.
‘Blood,’ Ayala said melodramatically.
Petersen jumped backwards. ‘Bloody hell. Where in God’s name did you come from?’
Ayala ignored him and leant inside the van to look around. There were tools scattered haphazardly around the floor. He picked them up each in turn and stared intently at each before he replaced it. ‘I wish we had some luminol,’ he muttered.
After a few minutes of this, Petersen began to lose patience. ‘My van’s empty. Can I get back to my supper now?’
‘I’ve got a few questions yet, Mr Petersen. Were you driving this vehicle tonight?’
‘Yes. I already told you. I did some work on a wet room, and then I came home.’
‘And where was that work undertaken?’
‘Chertsey. I stayed there until a little after six and then called it a night. Her indoors doesn’t like it when I’m not home in time for supper.’ Petersen looked towards the dining room. The kids and Mrs Petersen had finished their dinner, and Mrs Petersen was beavering away clearing up behind them.
Petersen looked from Morton to Ayala. ‘If it’d help, I can fetch my client’s phone number, and you can verify my whereabouts.’
Just when Morton was about to reply, his phone began to vibrate. The caller ID said Ashley Rafferty. Morton held up finger in a ‘one minute’ gesture and turned away from Petersen. ‘Morton.’
‘Boss. I’ve found something. White transit van in the area. Vanity plate number Pi53PER–’
Morton cut her off. ‘I’m way ahead of you. I’m standing next to that van right now. It’s not the right one. The owner was in Chertsey for a plumbing job.’
‘I don’t think so, boss. You can’t be standing next to it. It’s just gone past the ANPR cameras heading north on the A320 in the last ten minutes.’
‘Shit.’ The kidnappers were headed for the intersection of the A3 and M25 – the ideal place to disappear.
Morton had had the right number plate all long. He just had the wrong van. Petersen’s number plate must have been cloned by Vanessa’s – and Mayberry’s – kidnappers.
‘Sixty seconds? We’re ten minutes out. Get as many local officers in the areas as you can. I want roadblocks on the motorway in both directions. Promise them whatever you have to.’ Morton hung up and sprinted for his car without saying a word.
‘Hey! Boss? Where are you going?’ Ayala shouted from behind him. ‘Wait for me!’
hursday April 9th 20:05
The Automated Number Plate Recognition system worked in real-time. In theory.
In practice, the last hit for the cloned number plate was as the kidnappers were heading north along the B388 towards the M25. That hit was time-stamped for ten minutes ago, when Morton and Ayala were questioning Boyd Petersen.
Every second counted in kidnapping cases. The kidnappers had been careful enough not to be connected to the robbery. They’d stolen one van and cloned the number plates from another. They weren’t going to make it easy to follow them.
Morton cast a glance at the passenger seat and saw Ayala tap the refresh button again. Still nothing.
‘Give it a rest, Ayala. You know it’ll update as soon as another hit comes in.’
‘Where do you think they were going, boss?’
‘They were probably headed for the motorway, but if Rafferty has done her job quickly enough, then we’ve cut off those options–’
‘What if she hasn’t, boss?’ Ayala asked.
Silence hung in the air. If Rafferty was too late in getting up roadblocks, then the kidnappers would be long gone before Morton could do a damned thing.
‘We’ve got to proceed as if she has. If the kidnappers head along the motorway, then she’ll cut them off. That leaves us with the back roads. If I were trying to flee, I’d follow the road west from the B388 onto the B389 to Virginia Water, then cut back south over the M3 and then along the Guildford Road.’
Ayala craned around to look at Morton. ‘Why?’
‘Because if they can make it to the Six Crossroads Roundabout, then they’ll lose us,’ Morton said.
It was true. The Six Crossroads would let them head in virtually any direction, and keep them far enough away from the motorway to avoid the roadblocks.
‘You think they’ll take the back streets?’
‘No. They were two minutes out from the motorway intersection twelve minutes ago. If they went that way, then they’re already long gone.’ Morton stared ahead, willing the traffic to move faster. ‘But we can only do what we can do.’
The traffic was both blessing and curse. It meant that the criminals could still be in the area, but if they got to the edge of the jam before Morton did, then they’d get away.
They made it to the Six Crossroads in less than ten minutes. As Morton approached the roundabout, he could see police cars visible in every direction.
‘Good lass,’ Morton muttered before turning to Ayala. ‘You got anything on that laptop of yours? We’ve got cars in every direction. If they came this way, then we’ll find them.’
Ayala mashed the refresh button again. Still nothing.
‘Next guess, boss?’
‘If they’re not here, then they’ll have gone somewhere to ditch the van. These guys are too cautious not to change vehicles as soon as they can. Get a map up on that thing. Find me any disused industrial sites, wooded parklands or road-accessible bodies of water within twenty miles, and fast.’
fter the better part of half an hour roaming around West Byfleet and Woking, there was little to do but rejoin the search along the motorway, which proved to be easier said than done.
The M25, or the London Orbital Motorway as it was formally known, was a pain at the best of times. Tonight it was chock-a-block with commuters parked nose to tail. Rafferty had closed everything, and Morton was forced to crawl along the hard shoulder, much to the chagrin of the drivers he passed.
Every time Morton spotted a white van, his heart gave a leap. There was no shortage of transit vans queued up in the rain, either. Every single one had to be checked just in case the kidnappers had swapped plates yet again.
It was going to be a long night.
hursday April 9th 20:10
The van travelled along in deathly silence. Mayberry found himself bound tightly, the plastic cable ties digging into his wrists. He could feel the heat of another body to his right, and from the muffled sobs which punctuated the silence, he knew it to be the girl he had seen the moment the van doors opened.
He wanted to talk to her, to tell her that the kidnappers had blindfolded them for a reason.
Mayberry found that if he leant to his right and strained just so, he could offer the gentlest of touches on her arm by way of reassurance. He thought, or perhaps imagined, that she leant towards him in acknowledgement.
The silence was almost eerie. The hum of the motor drowned out the sounds of breathing, and so Mayberry had no way to tell how many men were in the van.
He knew that there had to be at least the two men who had bundled him inside, and another man driving up front, but there could just as easily have been five or six men watching them.
Metal pranged on metal somewhere to Mayberry’s right. Then a man’s voice, smoky and raw, cursed in a language that Mayberry did not speak.
It had to be the box. Mayberry felt a grim resolve swell up inside of him.
Over and over again he heard someone strike the box. They seemed to be hitting it faster and faster, as if angered that it would not give up its secrets.
Then the smoky voice spoke again, firm and in control. ‘
The van fell silent. They had given up attempting to open the box. A moment later the van rolled slowly to a stop and the engine cut off.
It had been less than fifteen minutes since Barker Road. They couldn’t have gone far.